02 September 2005

Three For Three

December, 1968
Pleiku, Viet Nam

I was happily settled into a semblance of a routine life with the 4th Infantry Division at Camp Enari, Viet Nam. Division managers began looking at the way aviators had been added to the Division and noticed that almost 20 percent of the Division's Aviator strength had been added in November of '68. This meant there would be an unacceptable loss of expertise in October of '69. The only way to resolve the problem was to "infuse" some aviators to other Divisions and bring in new replacements.

I got picked to move.
I received orders to go to the "Americal Division" at Chu Lai.

Although I hate to move, my new assignment was a blessing. My new housing overlooked the South China Sea. The unit had a deficiency of gunship pilots and welcomed me with open arms.

After going through the normal checkouts to insure I was qualified and current, I started flying missions.

One morning I was scheduled to fly with "Granddaddy" Jim Elrod.
Granddaddy was a CW4, the highest ranking Warrant Officer in the Army at the time. He was 52, our unit's oldest aviator, and had a daughter older than me.

Granddaddy liked me. When we met in operations to be briefed for the mission, Granddaddy asked if I would like to fly "right seat".........the command seat in the UH-1C gunship.......and my first chance to shoot rockets!
I jumped at the chance!

Our mission was a routine reconnaissance........OH-6 "little bird" flyin' REAL low........checking things out, with Granddaddy and I following close behind, just a little higher in altitude, to provide the little bird some protection.

We'd been searching an area with big rocks.........similar to what we used to see in Cowboy movies.......for about 15 minutes when the little bird called out........"RECEIVING FIRE!"

I pointed the nose of the Huey toward him, lined up my "infinity" rocket sight at the area he was fleeing, and pushed the rocket firing button twice.

WHOOSH, WHOOSH......two rockets with 10 pound high-explosive warheads were on their way to a rocky outcropping.

Then the world exploded. I had no sense of a big bang, but I felt a rush and had an instant of pain in my face. I was confused.
For just a moment, I was not in control of the aircraft.

I turned to Granddaddy and keyed the intercom...........said, "What the Hell was that?" But the intercom made no sound.

I tried again........"Can you hear me?" He shook his head........"NO."

Regaining my senses, I looked back to control the aircraft and saw that my infinity sight reticle was gone. Beyond that, there was a 30 calibre hole in my windshield! Granddaddy reached over and grabbed my helmet cord and held it up........shot in half!

The round had come through the windshield, through my rocket sight, then missed my face by six inches when it cut my helmet cord in two. Plexiglass from the windshield and glass from the rocket sight had blasted my face and eyes. My face was covered with tiny pinpricks of blood, and my eyes began to sting and tear.

We aborted the mission and called in another gun team.

Back at base, the Flight Surgeon spent 45 minutes picking slivers of glass and plexiglass out of my eyes and face.
In two days I was good as new.

Two months later, at a battalion awards ceremony, I received the Purple Heart.
When I see guys without arms and legs wearing the same award I received, I wonder if I should have gotten it.

But imagine my mental attitude.........
Crashed in October and destroyed the aircraft when the governor failed.
In November the "lift link" failed......a potentially fatal mechanical condition we found after almost deciding the aircraft was flyable.

And now this incident in January.
Three incidents that threatened my life........

There were 8 months left in my Viet Nam tour. I really wondered what was in store for me just around the corner!

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